BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 05/27/2019

Thiel: Not ready to hail Canadian team? Go Blues

Who to root for in the championships of the NBA and NHL? The underdog story of the St. Louis Blues beats the same for the Toronto Raptors. Besides, Blue Jays fans suck.

In one of the most famous photos in sports history, the Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr goes airborne after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues in 1970. / Ray Lussier, Boston Record American

Knowing how the dwindling knot of Mariners fans are repulsed annually by the bellicose Canadians who commandeer T-ball Park for the annual series with the Blue Jays, this notion may be hard to take. But since the NBA Finals features the Toronto Raptors for the first time in their existence, they are automatic darlings of the North American pro sports spring.

Since their foes, the Golden State Warriors, are in the Finals for the fifth time in a row, their dominance has put them in the villain’s role, in the fashion of the NFL’s New England Patriots and MLB’s Yankees of yore. Difficult as it is to dislike the Warriors for both their personalities and remarkably savory ballplaying, cartoon roles must be assigned for nonaligned fans.  Otherwise, what is the point?

Then again, if the thought of offering support to a Canadian team makes your blood thicken to poutine-like viscosity, there is another choice this spring, especially in view of Seattle’s pending ascent into the National Hockey League.

The Stanley Cup Finals feature the St. Louis Blues, whose dreary past is sadder than the Raptors, and even more weird than the Mariners, who opened in 1977.  And like Seattle, St. Louis still bleeds from the open wound of a civic hijacking of a sports team. Its wound is fresher, the NFL Rams having absconded to Los Angeles after the 2016 season.

The Blues’ first year was 1967-68, same as the Sonics. But the Blues immediately made three consecutive Stanley Cups, because they were the best part of the freakiest spasm of expansion in pro sports history.

Fearing a threat from the start-up World Hockey Association, the NHL’s original six teams decided to double the league in size at once, populating a six-team Western Conference (Blues, Oakland Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins) with castoff players.

Under the guidance of a crafty young coach named Scotty Bowman — who would go on to win nine Stanley Cups and more than 2,100 games in a Hall of Fame career — the Blues won the first three West finals. Then they lost three Cup finals to the much superior Easterners by a combined 0-12 mark.

That dirty dozen still stands as the NHL’s winless record — at least until now. In the series opener at 5 p.m. Monday (NBC, CBUT), the Blues return to the finals against the Boston Bruins, who beat them 49 years earlier.

In that title-free half century, the Blues nevertheless had 338 playoff games, or about four regular seasons worth of postseasons. In avoiding abject futility, they also lost out on chances for premium draft picks who could have made a difference in gaining franchise renown.

However, that high draft pick seemed in hand as recently as Jan. 2, when the Blues had the Western Conference’s worst record. Not long after, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports pondered in a tweet whether the Blues were the most obscure franchise in pro sports:

But for reasons not clearly understood by high priests, low bookies and hockey pundits, the Blues finished on a 30-10-2 run to tie for fourth in the West with 99 points. In the playoffs, they beat Winnipeg 4-2, Dallas 4-3 and San Jose 4-2. Now, they are upon the threshold of a frozen Valhalla.

It may well be that the seasonal turnaround was inspired by a mid-season change in the team’s post-game win song. Several players claim that the change to Gloria, the 1982 hit by Laura Branigan,  has been fundamental.

A surprising playoff team is always a better follow if it has a superstition, custom, music or saying that lacks in logic what it makes up for in absurdity.

So in a market that lacks for winter sports teams, as well as the absence of a team to hate (buh-bye, Oklahoma City), the Blues seem to check more boxes in Seattle than the Raptors.

Besides, the Raptors also have the distinction of having fired two significant figures from the Sonics tradition. Lenny Wilkens, coach of the Sonics title team, ran the Raptors from 2000-03 (113-133 record) before being ousted.

Dwayne Casey, a Sonics assistant from 1994 to 2005 and the man who kept George Karl from spontaneously combusting, was ousted even more senselessly a year ago.

Casey coached the Raptors from 2011 to 2018 (320-238), which included four Atlantic Division titles in five seasons, and three consecutive 50-win seasons. Because of the need for a “culture re-set,” whatever that means, Casey was fired by team president Masai Ujiri two days after winning the Michael H. Goldberg coach of the year award, handed out by the National Basketball Coaches Association.

Obviously, the controversial firing of Casey, as well as the hiring of star forward Kawhi Leonard for potentially just one year, seems have to worked out. But that doesn’t mean anyone in Seattle has to like it. It’s perfectly fine to carry the bitterness from the incursions of Blue Jays fans to stupid ends.

In fact, if you find yourself at T-ball for the Toronto series Aug. 23-25 and close enough to smell the Kokanee on his breath, ask the belligerent Blue Jays fan this question:

“Hey, my friendly mackinaw-wearing Canuck, what’s more impressive: The first NBA Finals in the Raptors’ 24 years, or the fact that a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in 25 years?”

 


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YourThoughts

  • Coop55

    In spite of the Canadian reputation of de-escalation and kindness when faced with insulating aggression I suspect true Canadian hockey fans would punch most who remind them of their country’s Stanley Cup drought, a fact wearing out even legendary Canadian patience. But North American pro hockey is still dominated by Canadians (45% of players I believe), salve for sad Canucks who recognize the final geographical location of the trophy is (somewhat) immaterial because Canadians likely played the major role in getting it there.
    Then the Bruins screwed it up.
    Boston is the American hockey team America has been waiting for. 19 U.S. born players compared to only 7 Canadians on the team (though honestly, Boston would be on the golf course today without Canadians Marchand and Bergeron). The Blues in contrast are a Canadian team on the wrong side of the border. 20 Canadians dominate the roster. How fitting Blues hockey history so perfectly fits recent Canadian hockey frustration; a country and a city both enduring decades of being infuriatingly adequate.
    Seattle is St. Louis is Canada. Too often the sad-sack sports wannabe trying to hang with the big guys (side note: our pro women’s teams kick ass. Let’s leave them out of this), all three have felt the sting of losing professional sports franchises. Every now and again we (Seattle) put a special team together and make a run at a championship. But generally we are the habitual underdog. Unlike cities such as Boston, New York, and Chicago that is our identity.
    Who then should Seattle be pulling for in the NBA and NHL play-offs? Obviously St. Louis and the Raptors.
    GO BLUES!

    • art thiel

      Thanks for the roster by nationality info. And the apt expession: Infuriatingly adequate. A headline/epitaph for much of Seattle sports.

    • Husky73

      The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the crown jewels of all of American sports.

      • art thiel

        Still have your Stan Musial baseball cards?

        • Husky73

          Mike Shannon (former Rainier)

  • coug73

    Go Dubs.

    • art thiel

      Front-runner.

      • coug73

        Ha, ha, for many years.

        • art thiel

          So when I write Al Attles, you know who I mean.

  • Husky73

    Husky73 <—– member of the dwindling knot (brilliant). The Raptors had a cultural re-set, and the Mariners had a step back. The Blues went 30-10. The Mariners have just gone 10-30. I am searching (and failing) for connective metaphors. Art, only you can help me.

    • art thiel

      You’ve done the heavy work. Let us step back and admire.

  • 1coolguy

    What GS has done, being in the finals 5 straight years, is truly remarkable.
    The Celtics’ record of 5 was done when the NBA had only 8 teams, then 9 – MUCH better odds. It’s been a long time since my stats class, so maybe someone can tell us the odds of an 8 team league compared to a 30 team league, of making the finals.
    And of course arguably Houston was in the finals in the years Jordan decided to play baseball, otherwise who knows how many finals and championships the Bulls would have been in/won?
    Regardless GS has accomplished much and their run is very, very impressive!

    • art thiel

      Actually, the NBA had 14 teams during most of the Celtics’ reign. The counter argument is that talent was much less diluted then than now, making sustained success harder. More bad teams, as there are now, actually makes it easier on the Dubs. But their feat of five in a row is admirable in any league any time.

  • Kirkland

    Another reason to root for the Blues: Bruins fans are just as obnoxious as all the other Boston sports fans. In October 2005 I attended a game in Tampa between the Stanley Cup champions Lightning and a Bruins team that missed the playoffs. The Bolts lost to the B’s 4-2, and as the arena emptied out, Bruins fans were chanting “OVER-RATED!!” to the grumbling Lightning fans. The Bolts did lay an egg in that game, yes, but I remember thinking, “You haven’t won a Cup since 1972, and you’re yelling “Over-rated!” to the defending champions on their home ice? Come on!” And since the Bruins have actually won the Cup since that bad 2005 team, their fans have gotten even more aggravating.

    As far as the Blues go, they’ve had one of the most underrated, loyal fan bases in the NHL. They don’t get on national TV much since Brett Hull left, but they are loud and have great traditions like the organ playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” after goals, and then counting the number of goals after the P.A. announcer announces the official goal scorer and assists. And wait ’till you see this mark of fandom the day after the Rams moved, when the Blues had a home game. (Note: The Blues and Cardinals executives were wearing jackets of each other’s teams as a show of solidarity.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mm3RVIc3Eo